Hitchhiking to Mars

NASA’s InSight Mars lander is not traveling alone. Two small briefcase size spacecrafts, nicknamed “Wall-E” and “Eva” are hitching a ride as the first CubeSats to visit another planet.

NASA illustration two CubeSats at Mars

A CubeSat is a miniatized satellite for space research made up of multiple cubic units. CubeSats became very popular in the 2000’s for applications such as communications, tracking shipping or performing Earth observation.  Until now, all of them have stayed closed to our home planet.

The Mars twin CubeSats, officially called MarCO-A and B, flew on the same Atlas V rocket that sent InSight into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 4, 2018.

Insight lifting off Credit: Ben Smegelsky/NASA

Serving as scouts, the CubeSats will have a front-row seat of the show. Theywill follow InSight on its interplanetary trajectory to Mars and attempt to track the larger spacecraft’s descent and landing on Mars in late November.

Both CubeSats have already phoned home shortly after their release, indicating that their solar panels are providing enough charge in their batteries to deploy their own solar arrays, stabilize themselves, pivot toward the Sun and turn on their radios.

Both MarCos use a compressed gas commonly found in fire extinguishers to push themselves through space, the same way Wall-E did.

Movie still of Wall-E and Eve Credit: Pixar

In addition to charging their own batteries, the twins’ delicate electronics will also need to withstand bursts of radiation on their way to Mars.

If all goes according to plan, InSight will reach its destination in a little less than seven months. If the twins make it they will provide a welcome set of extra eyes as InSight tries to stick its landing on Mars.

This will be a crucial first test of CubeSat technology beyond Earth’s orbit, demonstrating how they could be used to further explore the solar system.


NASA Superstar Peggy Whitson

Peggy Whitson at a press conference in Kazakhstan in November 2016 Credit: Getty Images

Peggy Whitson was born on February 9th, 1960 in Mount Ayr, Iowa. In 1981 she graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Then, in 1985, she graduated from Rice University with a doctorate degree in biochemistry. After her graduation, she continued on at Rice as a post-doctoral fellow for another year.

Peggy Whitson spent a number of years working at NASA before she first went to space. In 1989, Whitson joined NASA as a research biochemist. She served in this role for three years before she became a technical monitor, a job she held from 1991 through 1992. Then, in 1992, she became the project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program. Whitson subsequently worked in NASA’s Medical Sciences Division and then became the co-chair of the U.S.-Russian Mission Science Working Group.

It was in August 1996 when Peggy Whitson began training to become an astronaut. This took two years, and her first mission was in 2002.

Whitson was a crew member on Expedition 5, which launched on June 5th, 2002. She was one of two flight engineers.  She subsequently spent 184 days in space, also completing a 4 hour and 25 minute spacewalk. Then, in 2007, Whitson was a crew member on Expedition 16, and this time she spent 192 days in space.

Astronaut Peggy Whitson during her 7th space walk January , 2017 Credit: NASA Photo

Whitson shows how dreams become reality, becoming the first female commander of the International Space Station and serving a record 665 days in space. She served as commander twice and also holds the record for most space walks by a woman (10), most hours outside the vehicle (60) and oldest woman in space (57). She was supposed to return to Earth in June 2017 but happily accepted the opportunity to stay on another three months when Russia’s space organization Roscosmos pulled its crew back from participation in a mission to the ISS earlier that year.

Expedition 50 NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson smiles as she listens to a reporter’s question ahead of the final qualification exams with fellow crew mates Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, on October 25, 2016 at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia. (Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)
Commander Whitson inside Unity module on ISS Credit: NASA photo
Flight Engineer Peggy Whitson conducting a cardiac stem cell experiment in Microgravity Science Glovebox Credit: NASA photo
Peggy Whitson conducting spacewalk training at NASA Johnson Space Center Credit: NASA Photo

Truly a NASA superstar Whitson encourages aspiring astronauts to get education in science, math and engineering.

Want more information?  Watch this interview with Commander Whitson on Connections to Science from Iowa Public Television:


Photo History of Eyeglasses

I thought it would be fun to look at the changes made to eyeglasses throughout the ages.

The first pair of what we would consider eyeglasses appeared in the late 1400s in Pisa, Italy. These eyeglasses actually looked like two small magnifying glasses (made with convex-shaped glass) riveted together at the top of their handles. The Museum of Vision notes that early eyeglasses were mostly used by monks and scholars.

Conrad von Soest, The Glasses Apostle, 1403

Lorgnettes were popular in France. A lorgnette is, quite simply, a pair of spectacles mounted on a handle.  It was an indispensable accessory for the 19th century lady about town.

Lady with lorgnette by Unknown Artist

The rarest, and most expensive, lorgnettes are those commissioned to have a watch embedded within the handle.

Vintage lorgnette

As the 19th Century ended, tastes changed toward more inexpensive, everyday spectacles such as the pince-nez. French for “pinch nose,” the pince-nez was first developed in France circa 1840 and began to be imported to America after the 1850s. Their popularity was helped by political figures such as Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge who wore them regularly.

Trade card showing pince-nez

The American Renaissance man Benjamin Franklin is credited with inventing bifocals in the mid 1700s. He split one lens in half, with the upper part being made for distance viewing and the lower part for near viewing. Antique Spectacles notes that Franklin wrote to London philanthropist George Whatley in May 1785, “As I wear my own glasses constantly, I have only to move my eyes up or down, as I want to see distinctly far or near, the proper glasses being always ready.”

Benjamin Franklin

For most of the 1940s, round circle sunglasses with thick plastic frames were the trendy fashionable look.

Some people are famous for their eyeglasses like:

John Lennon
Dame Edna rhinestone glasses Tim Whitby Getty Images
Steve Jobs, 2008 AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Woody Allen
Iris Afpfel hsn:Instagram

What’s new:  smart glasses are wearable computer glasses that add information alongside or to what the wearer sees.

Apple smart glasses Credit: Shutterstock
Chinese police woman wearing smart glasses to access instant intellienge. Credit: AFP




Will the Real Rosie the Riveter Please Stand Up

The “We Can Do It!” poster created by artist J. Howard Miller was initially published by Westinghouse Company as a war effort. Rosie is shown wearing a red bandana and blue coveralls in it. The original intention of the poster was to boost employee morale. It has been mistakenly called “Rosie the Riveter” poster ever since.

Photo from the Smithsonian

Decades after the war, when the poster was rediscovered, some basic (i.e. pre-internet) research turned up an AP Wire Service photograph of a woman working a machine at the Alameda Naval Base that may have inspired the We Can Do It! Poster. In the photograph she is wearing a turban, slacks, and coverall gown that keeps her from getting tangled in the machinery.  The photo ran without a caption.

Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

A woman from Michigan, Geraldine Doyle, thought she recognized herself in the image and publicly claimed credit as the model. Doyle only worked at a factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in the summer of 1942. As a cellist, she became afraid that machine work might injure her hands, and so she quit her one and only factory job after just a few weeks and married a dentist. Though she was celebrated as the model for decades, there’s no way she could have been the figure in the picture, which was taken months before she graduated from high school.

In the early 2000s, when Geraldine Doyle insisted to the Rosie the Riveter Museum that she had been the woman in the picture, another woman named Naomi Parker accused her of identity theft and submitted a sworn affidavit, several profile and full-face pictures of herself, and a notarized copy of her birth certificate for good measure.  The media did not believe her story.

When Doyle passed away in 2010 the media lamented in no uncertain terms the passing of “Rosie the Riveter” model Geraldine Doyle.

In 2011 the Rosie the Riveter National Park put out a call for other Rosies to share their memories and artifacts from the war years. Naomi Parker Fraley and her sister sent in some items, including a clipping of the lathe woman photograph from a 1942 newspaper, noting that Parker herself was the subject of the photo. The Park Service soon replied in a formal letter, saying that its personnel were already familiar with the picture of that woman, whom other sources had previously “identified as ‘Geraldine Doyle.'” By that point, Doyle’s tale was so widespread that even government officials had trouble disbelieving it.

Fraley’s late-in-life fame came as the result of the dedicated efforts made by one scholar, James J. Kimble.

Kimble’s 2016 article revealed his findings in the journal Rhetoric & Public Affairs, called “Rosie’s Secret Identity.” At the time, the New York Times reported, Fraley gave an interview to the Omaha World-Herald in which she gave a simple yet memorable description of how it felt to finally be known to the world as the real-life Rosie: “Victory! Victory! Victory!”

On January 22, 20-18 Naomi Parker Fraley, the real “Rosie the Riveter” died at the age of 96 in Longview, Washington.



A Tribute to Audubon

Nineteenth-century naturalist, ornithologist, and artist John James Audubon lived the later years of his life in northern Manhattan, in what is now the Hamilton Heights neighborhood of Harlem. Audubon is best known for his comprehensive book, The Birds of America, which was accompanied by beautiful, detailed illustrations of many of the birds.

Illustrated page from John James Audubon’s The Birds of America. Photo by Susie Cushner

Today, visitors to Hamilton Heights will discover a series of amazing murals that honor Audubon while bringing attention to the effects of climate change on North America’s bird populations. Known as the Audubon Mural Project, the murals are a collaborative effort of the National Audubon Society and Gitler & ______Gallery (yes, that’s the gallery’s actual name – there is an underlined blank space).

This spray-painted menagerie graces roll-down gates and barren walls with permission of willing property owners. Here are a few examples:

Bay breasted warbler semipalmated plover by Fifty/FFTY Photo by Mike Fernandez/Audubon
Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Western Bluebird at 1614 Amsterdam, NYC Artist: Shawn Bullen Photo: Hillary Eggers/Audubon
Anhinga at 3458 Broadway, NYC Artist: Lexi Bella Photo: Hillary Eggers Audubon
Spotted owl at 3841 Broadway, NYC Artist: Paul Nassar Photo: Hillary Eggers/Audubon
Roseate spoonbill at 3541 Broadway, NYC
Artist: Danielle Mastrion Photo: Mike Fernandez/Audubon

Elsewhere, Audubon himself is rendered in flesh tones and with mutton-chop sideburns, staring curiously at a cerulean warbler on his shoulder with neither his rifle nor palette at hand.

John James Audubon contemplating the Cerulean Warbler at 601 W. 149th NYC Artist: Tom Sanford Photo : Mike Fernandez/Audubon

The National Audubon Society’s website has a map showing the location of each mural. The website also serves as an excellent guide for a tour of the murals, as it gives much more information about each one, including an explanation of how the birds are being affected by climate change and some remarks by each artist about their art.


Check out this video of Damien Mitchell creating a mural of a peregrine falcon for the Audubon Mural Project:

Aunt Jemima Was a Jazz Singer

Quaker Oats Company has had six models of Aunt Jemima for their pancake mix. In the 1940’s it was Edith Wilson.

Born Edith Goodall to a middle class family in Louisville, Kentucky, Edith first performed as part of a blues trio with Lena and Danny Wilson. She recorded 17 songs in 1921 and 1922 with Columbia with Johnny Dunn’s Jazz Hounds. Edith remained a nightclub and theatre singer working for years in New York City.

Edith became a major star in the New York black entertainment world. She was part of the famous “Lew Leslie’s Plantation Review” at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem. Edith also traveled to England where she established herself as an international star. Though she lacked the emotional depth that artists such as Bessie Smith and Ida Cox brought to the classic blues form, Wilson helped introduce the blues to white audiences, both in the U.S. and in Europe

Edith sang with The Hot Chocolates revue performing alongside Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. Edith Wilson would appear with all the greatest names in black show business of the day, including Bill Robinson, Duke Ellington, Alberta Hunter, Cab Calloway, Noble Sissle, and many others.

Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Edith did extensive work as an actress appearing on radio in Amos and Andy playing the part of Kingfish’s mother-in-law and in the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Becall class film “To Have and Have Not”.

After WWII she became the face of Aunt Jemima for the Quaker Oats Company. Some criticized Edith Wilson for playing a black stereotype, but she refused to be intimidated and was proud of what she considered the aura of dignity she brought to the character.

Edith Wilson as Aunt Jemima at personal appearance for the Seattle Kiwanis Club, 1956

Edith Wilson retired from show business in 1963 to work as an executive secretary with Negro Actors Guild and to involve herself with other charitable, religious, and literary activities. She returned from retirement in 1973, her last appearance was at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1980.


Electrifying Match-Ups

I just finished reading The Last Day of Night by Graham Moore and thought it would be fun to look at photographs of Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, who, more than a century ago, engaged in a nasty battle over alternating and direct current, known as the “War of Currents.”

Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla Credit: Library of Congress

Edison developed the first practical incandescent light bulb in 1879. Supported by his own direct current electrical system, the rush to build hydroelectric plants to generate DC power in cities across the United States practically guaranteed Edison a fortune in patent royalties.

But there were limitations with DC power so Edison brought Nikola Tesla on to design a more practical form of power transmission. Tesla was a 28 years old mathematician and engineer from Serbia. Tesla told Edison the future was in AC (alternating current). When Edison dismissed his idea Tesla left Edison in 1885 and set out to raise money for his own company.

Enter industrialist George Westinghouse at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company Westinghouse who made his fortune on an air braking system, which revolutionized rail safety. Westinghouse was a believer in AC power. He bought some of Tesla’s patents and set about commercializing the system to make electric lighting more than an urban luxury service. While Tesla’s ideas and ambitions might be brushed aside, Westinghouse had both ambition and capital, and Edison immediately recognized the threat to his business.

George Westinghouse

Edison and Westinghouse knew there was room for but one American electricity system, and Edison set out to ruin Westinghouse and Tesla in a great political, legal and marketing game. Their battle played out on the front pages of newspapers and in the Supreme Court. Edison’s attempt to smear Westinghouse with the dangers of AC has precisely the opposite effect.

Despite all of Edison’s efforts, and despite his attempts to persuade General Electric otherwise, the superiority of the AC current was too much for Edison and his DC system to overcome.  For his part, Edison later admitted that he regretted not taking Tesla’s advice.

In 1893, Westinghouse was awarded the contract to light the Chicago’s World Fair bringing all the positive publicity he would need to make alternating current the industry standard.

Postcard World’s Columbian Exposition Chicago 1893
Spectators viewing the Columbian Exposition Fair
1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago lit by Westinghouse
Electrical Building at the fair exhibiting both Westinghouse Electric as well as Edison’s General Electric Company

Seeking to make long distance electric power transmission a reality, George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla combined their skills and their belief in the new AC technology to build the first hydro-electric power plant in 1895 in Niagara Falls. This achievement was regarded as the unofficial end to the War of the Currents, and AC became dominant in the electric power industry.

Interior of Edward Dean Adams power station at Niagara with ten 5,000-horsepower Tesla/Westinghouse AC generators. Photo credit: The Everett Collection

In 1899 Tesla opened the Experimental Station in Colorado Springs to study the use of high-voltage, high frequency electricity in wireless power transmission. One of Tesla’s goals was to produce artificial lightning.

Tesla shown here with the Tesla spiral coil high voltage transformer, 1896.
Famous photograph of Serbian-American inventor Nicola Tesla in his laboratory in Colorado Springs around 1899. Tesla is supposedly sitting reading next to his giant high voltage generator while the machine produced huge bolts of electricity. The photo was a promotional stunt by photographer Dickenson V. Alley – a double exposure. First the machine’s huge sparks were photographed in the darkened room, then the photographic plate was exposed again with the machine off and Tesla sitting in the chair. In his Colorado Springs Notes Tesla admitted that the photo is false.